The New York Times has an in-depth report on the Benghazi incident from a reporter who went there and interviewed dozens of people on the ground. Quick summary:
Fifteen months after Mr. Stevens’s death, the question of responsibility remains a searing issue in Washington, framed by two contradictory story lines.
One has it that the video, which was posted on YouTube, inspired spontaneous street protests that got out of hand. This version, based on early intelligence reports, was initially offered publicly by Susan E. Rice, who is now Mr. Obama’s national security adviser.
The other, favored by Republicans, holds that Mr. Stevens died in a carefully planned assault by Al Qaeda to mark the anniversary of its strike on the United States 11 years before. Republicans have accused the Obama administration of covering up evidence of Al Qaeda’s role to avoid undermining the president’s claim that the group has been decimated, in part because of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
The investigation by The Times shows that the reality in Benghazi was different, and murkier, than either of those story lines suggests. Benghazi was not infiltrated by Al Qaeda, but nonetheless contained grave local threats to American interests. The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs.
The person they finger in the attack is Ahmed Abu Khattala and Ansar Al-Sharia. I would point out that, to many, distinguishing them from Al-Qaeda is academic. Ansar Al-Sharia are an Islamist organization that wants Sharia law implemented and are certainly on the same page as Al-Qaeda even if they are not technically affiliated. But the Times also shows that the US had ample signs that something very serious was about to go down in Libya and distinctly failed to account for it. The video was part of the motivation, but this appears to have mainly affected the timing of the attack. The Islamists were going to hit the US at some point.
As you might expect, the reaction to the Times piece is falling along partisan lines. Republicans are claiming it’s all a cover-up and the NYT is full of crap (although NYT’s reporting is based on far more witnesses (and fewer fraudulent ones) than the 60 Minutes report). Democrats are claiming vindication and that the Benghazi scandal is all a hoax. Ed Morrissey has a great take, pointing out that this confirms what Lee Stranahan has been saying for months.
In other words, the White House story that this was a demonstration that just got out of control was false. As we have discovered through Congressional testimony and the release of communications from that night, the White House and State Department knew immediately that it was a terrorist attack. If the YouTube video played a part in the motivation, it was nevertheless only possible because of a planned attack on an egregiously undefended facility, in the middle of a region controlled by Islamist militias, on the anniversary of 9/11 — when the US should have had its highest readiness.
In other words, this only addresses the relative import of the YouTube video, not any of the questions of the incompetence from State and the White House.
In short, we’re slowly converging on the reality somewhere between the two political poles.
In short, both sides were full of it on some points. The Right Wing’s talking points that proved wrong: that Obama had real-time video of events, that the attack was continuous for eight hours, that no response was sent from Tripoli, that Stephens was raped or violated, that the video had nothing to do with what happened, that this was Al-Qaeda. The Left Wing’s talking points that proved wrong: that it was a spontaneous protest, that it was any kind of a protest, that all possible assets were used, that AQ-sympathizing elements had nothing to do with it, that his attack could not have been anticipated.
In short, the Benghazi conspiracy theories are garbage (with the exception of speculation about the CIA’s presence) but the “there’s nothing to see here; move along” Left Wing knee-jerk defense is garbage too. We’re back to where we were on September 11, 2012: an incompetent State Department that left US personnel in a vulnerable position and then tried to pretend the awful events in Benghazi could not have been foreseen. By the time the attack happened, the die had been cast.
Sorry, Obama Defense Derangement Syndrome sufferers. This is not a “vindication” of the President.